Alumni networks planned for 12,000 students

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

The charity Future First is leading on a project to deliver ‘old school tie’ alumni networks for 12,000 students in the South West of England. Christine Gilbert explains more

Thousands of state students across the South West are to benefit from “old school tie” networks designed to boost their motivation, confidence and skills by linking them with former students.

Public schools and universities have long known the value of keeping former students engaged. Their alumni see themselves as part of a lasting community and they provide multiple benefits, from networking to fundraising. State schools are realising that untapped potential.

The Sustainable Alumni Communities Project, run by Future First, will launch in 40 schools and colleges across Cornwall, Devon and part of Somerset this term. By September, these will be harnessing the wealth of talents and experience of alumni to help 12,000 students make the crucial link between their studies and life beyond school.

The attainment of British children is overwhelmingly linked to parental occupation, income and qualifications. This is fundamentally unfair and limits not only the life chances of individual students but also the contribution that they can make to the country.

This is a huge economic, cultural and societal loss. Strong alumni communities can lessen this loss. Working alongside staff in school, alumni not only increase understanding about the world of work, they help drive ambition and aspiration. They build students’ confidence that there is a valuable place for them in the world of work.

As a charity, Future First already works in 400 state schools across Britain taking alumni back every day to motivate the current generation. They bring careers education to life and are a huge asset in providing practical insights into working life. They inspire current students to believe they can achieve and no career door is closed to them.

The biggest value of alumni is as role-models for students. Having been to the same school and lived in the same area, they relate particularly well to students. Alumni can prove to students that “someone like me” can succeed.

Hearing from successful former students who have sat at the same school desk, perhaps had the same teachers and who have made the transition from school to a successful career can transform students’ motivation to succeed.

Alumni return with different experiences of life after school and their individual stories highlight success but also the difficulties they might have had on the way. They offer insights and connections.

The Sustainable Alumni Communities Project will be delivered by Future First in partnership with SSAT and will be funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company, set up by the government in 2015 to transform the provision of careers education and advice and inspire young people about work opportunities.

As the project gets underway, Future First will help schools trace and build networks of former students who can support schools in several ways, including involvement in lessons, workshops, assemblies or mentoring and providing advice at key decision points. Our schools use alumni to target areas of need such as practical help through the UCAS process or even encouraging young women into maths and science.

Many schools and colleges use alumni for work experience too, particularly important in the South West which has one of the lowest levels of employer engagement in schools in Britain. This might be the traditional one or two-week placement but it could also be a day work-shadowing alumni.

Each school will be supported by a Future First alumni officer who will help the school engage and develop a long-term community of former students and to embed a culture of alumni and employer volunteering. Schools will have access to a secure online database to collect contact and employment details of former students and staff will be trained on how best to use the individual strengths of their alumni.

There are rewards for returning alumni too. Alumni tell us how much they enjoy the experience of returning to speak to their old teachers and current students.

  • Christine Gilbert is executive chair of the charity Future First.

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